This collection opens with a strong one-two punch. The Summer People is a fairy tale grounded in the reality of impoverished rural life and being stuck in a job you hate. It’s about betrayal and escape and relationships. The ending is very sad, but there is a whimsy to it and a determination that keeps it from being too grim. The second is about an actor who is typecast as a vampire and his lost relationship with an old costar. I won’t summarize further, but it is very funny, scary and pulls the rug out at just the right moment and in just the right way.
“The Lesson” from later in the collection is perfect. A gay couple who have hired someone to be a surrogate mother go to an old friend’s wedding as complications arise in the pregnancy. There is a wishing well on the island. On this framework Link builds an eerie and fully realized story about choices and fate and love and contentment and fear. Granted I was sitting down as I read it, but I was frozen in place for some time after reading it.
I could keep pointing to standouts, but there were only two stories that didn’t work for me on the first pass. Link, though, is a writer who has earned a second look and rewards rereading, so I will withhold judgment until I read the collection again. Which I will. I wanted to add one of Link’s collections to my read every year list.* But now, having read all four, I can’t decide which one, so I will likely rotate between them. I can’t recommend her stories highly enough.
* Currently comprised of Pale Fire by Nabokov, Moby Dick by Melville, Wild Seed by Butler, Prater Violet by Isherwood and moving forward, Peace and Fifth Head of Cerberus by Wolfe, Holy the Firm by Dillard and Middlemarch by Eliot. This could do with some pruning, and there likely will be at some point (The Moviegoer, Till We Have Faces and Godric used to be on the list), but I’m not willing to let go of any of the current batch go at the moment.